Illinois Public Media News
Champaign-Urbana area customers of Illinois American Water would pay nearly 35 percent more for their water service, under a rate request that the company filed Friday with the Illinois Commerce Commission.
This is the second rate increase that Illinois American says is needed to help pay for the new water treatment plant the company built west of Champaign. But spokesperson Kathryn Foster says the increase would pay other improvements as well. She says the increase also includes revenue to pay for "enhancements to the Mattis Avenue water treatment plant, to enhance water quality and operations reliability. And we're also investing in replacing and relocating mains, hydrants and meters."
In all, Foster says the rate hike request reflects more than 37-million dollars spent on the water system in Illinois American's Champaign District. An average residential customer's water bill would go up about 10 dollars, to 41-dollars-67 cents a month. The new rate schedule would also mark a switch from bi-monthly to monthly billing.
Whatever rate increase the ICC approves for Illinois American Water would take effect in the spring of next year. Foster says the next step is the state's comprehensive review process, which will include public hearings and opportunities for public comment.
The Champaign County Board gave a big thumbs up to wind turbine farms Thursday night. County Board members voted 24 to 2 with one abstention to approve zoning rules which will allow the construction of large wind farms on agricultural land, if a special use permit is granted.
Champaign Democrat Alan Kurtz championed the wind farm ordinance in the Environment and Land Use Committee. He estimates that 200 wind turbines operating over the next 20 years in the county could bring in 250 million dollars in revenue to landowners and local governments. And Kurtz saw more benefits, noting that "there are hundreds of good-paying jobs that will be produced by green energy ... education in the form of revenue for schools and Parkland College .... clean air, displacements of tons of pollution in the air ... renewable energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."
But not everyone in Champaign County is crazy about wind farms. The boards of Mahomet Township and neighboring Newcomb Township filed formal protests. Herb Schildt of the Newcomb Township Plan Commission said the ordinance was weakened when the map amendment component was removed, meaning neighbors of proposed wind farm sites cannot file formal protests. "If it is good and proper to require a map amendment for something as small as a beauty shop," said Schildt, "then it must also be good and proper to require a map amendment for something as large as a wind farm."
But representatives of two wind farm developers say the ordinance as originally presented would have been too restrictive to allow them to build in Champaign County. John Doster of Invenergy and Jeff Polz of Midwest Wind Energy said they were pleased with the ordinance in its final form. They say their companies hope to submit applications for wind farms in Champaign County sometime in late summer or fall.
Flooding from last Friday's heavy rainstorm was too much for a group of neighbors living south of the Kraft plant in Champaign. They want the city to do something about the poor drainage in their neighborhood.
James Creighton says his neighborhood has it worse than anyone, and he doesn't just mean last Friday's downpour.
"I believe it was Council member (Karen) Foster who asked three of four weeks ago if John Street was the worst neighborhood. And the answer was no, it was Copper Slough -- my neighborhood, south of Kraft, that's the worst neighborhood," Creighton told the council
He was among about a dozen people from the Copper Slough or Washington Street neighborhood located between Prospect and Mattis who came to Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting for some flood relief. They brought photos and eyewitness accounts of flooded basements and streets from last Friday and from previous rainstorms. Mary Ann Keith says last Friday's floodwaters came at her from both sides.
"When the water comes from Prospect, it comes from Mattis," Keith said. "It drains both directions. We actually stand outside and watch it come down the street."
Mayor Jerry Schweighart says the problem is a big one, and fixing it won't be easy. An upgrade of the neighborhood's storm sewer system would cost the city millions of dollars it doesn't have. In the meantime, Champaign's Neighborhood Services Department will hold a meeting in the neighborhood next week to listen to people's concerns. And City Engineer Roland White says new eco-friendly techniques like water permeable pavements and raingardens to hold in groundwater could help limit the degree of flooding during future rains.
The Champaign City Council is not protesting the Champaign County Board proposal to allow wind turbine farms in the county --- but it does have a suggestion.
Council members voted 5 to 4 Tuesday night to ask the county board to consider extending the city's buffers outside its borders where it has a say in zoning decisions to 2-and-a-half miles for wind farms. It's currently 1-and-a-half miles for all city zoning issues. Councilman Tom Bruno says he supports wind farms, but believes it's important that they not be built close to areas the city has slated for future development.
"I think that sound planning would have these wind farms, if they're appropriate for Champaign County, be built at a little safer distance from what is already inhabited municipality to allow for years of possible future growth without the conflict between wind turbines and residential housing," Bruno said.
Bruno supported a protest of the county board proposal, but the measure was narrowly defeated, 5 to 4. By the same margin, the Champaign City Council passed a resolution asking the county board to simply give them the 2-and-a-half mile zoning buffer. It's a request that's already been turned down by the county board's Environment and Land Use Committee. The full Champaign County Board will consider the wind farm proposal Thursday night.
Mahomet Aquifer Consortium Still Looking for Money to Finish Its Study
Public donations are being sought with hopes of completing an extensive study on the Mahomet Aquifer in just over six weeks.
The Champaign County Board is expected to vote this month on a proposal to allow the development of wind turbine farms on agricultural land. Some Champaign city officials say that's fine with them --- if the county inserts a new rule to keeping the wind farms further away from the city.
Champaign and other communities already have a mile and a half around their borders where they can overrule the county on zoning. It's called 'extra-territorial jurisdiction" or ETJ. For wind farms, Champaign city planners and the city Plan Commission recommend asking the county for an additional mile of ETJ. Land Development Manager Lorrie Pearson says they want to make sure the city can grow without bumping up against a wind farm. "Whereas today if a wind farm is located immediately adjacent to the ETJ, in the future it may actually be within the ETJ or perhaps even within our growth area," Pearson said. "So we want to really look at how our city grows and have that be more consistent with our comprehensive plan rather it be regulated by wind farms that are existing within our county."
The Champaign City Council hasn't discussed the matter yet, but the County Board's Environment and Land Use Committee will look at the ETJ request at their meeting tonight, prior to a county board vote next week. Committee Chair Barb Wysocki isn't commenting on the idea. But she says the current proposals for Champaign County wind farms would be built well away from Champaign.
Injuries are being reported in southern Illinois in the wake of thunderstorms that packed 100-mph winds that moved across the area Friday.
Health officials say a truck driver who had to be extricated from an overturned semitrailer was in serious condition at a local hospital.
Rosslynd Rice of Southern Illinois Healthcare says about six other patients with minor injuries were being treated at the Memorial Hospital of Carbondale.
Carbondale Township Fire Captain Mark Black says trees are down and siding from homes is strewn everywhere. He says his firefighters are cutting trees out of the roadway so they can get their trucks out.
The storms forced the cancellation of some commencement ceremonies Friday at Southern Illinois University's Carbondale campus.
University spokesman Rod Sievers says power is out, hundreds of trees are down and many dorm windows are broken. But there were no injuries on .
Sievers says if power returns, commencement ceremonies scheduled for Saturday will go on as planned.
It's finals week at SIU-Carbondale, and many students have left campus because they were finished with tests.
More than 33,000 Ameren customers are without power, mostly around Carbondale, Marion and Herrin.
The Urbana City Council will not join Newcomb Township in trying to block passage of a county zoning ordinance for wind turbine farms. Council members voted unanimously Monday night not to file a protest against the county board zoning proposal.
The proposal would allow the construction of large wind turbine farms on land zoned agricultural, under a special use permit. Mayor Laurel Prussing says council members support wind farms. She says wind turbines can provide an alternative energy source that dovetails with the city's support for conservation and sustainable energy. "The city will do what it can in terms of energy conservation and sustainability,"says Prussing. "But we see the production of energy as a key ingredient in solving this whole problem, and that's why we are in favor of wind energy being used."
The Champaign County Board could vote on the wind farm zoning ordinance at its May 21st meeting. The proposal is currently in committee.
The Newcomb Township Board voted last month to protest the proposal. Their protest means it will take a super-majority --- or 21 votes --- for the measure to pass the Champaign County Board. In Champaign, the city's Plan Commission will discuss the proposal at its meeting on Wednesday.
A free prescription-drug dropoff program is taking place this week, a year after the first effort brought in an unexpectedly high number of old drugs.
Carle RX Express locations in Champaign-Urbana, Mahomet and Monticello are collecting old, outdated or unused prescription and over-the-counter drugs all this week.
Greg Puszkiewicz is the director of the pharmacies - he says last year the stores accepted 526 pounds of medications and turned them over to the City of Urbana, which is helping sponsor the dropoff.
"The City of Urbana comes and picks it up and takes it to their facility, then the next day the EPA comes and picks it up and they take it to Texas where it's incinerated," Puszkiewicz said.
Puszkiewicz says last year, the first-ever dropoff happened just as news stories appeared about traces of pharmaceuticals found in drinking water supplies. He says that spurred patients to take action and get rid of their old drugs in a safe way, instead of flushing them down the drain or the toilet - in some cases, participants had been holding onto the medications for more than twenty years.
Zoning rules for wind turbine farms in Champaign County won the approval of a county board committee Monday night on a 7 to 2 vote.
The Environmental and Land Use Committee endorsed rules regulating large arrays of wind turbines up to 500 feet tall on agricultural land. Currently, Champaign County rules only cover small individual wind turbines or windmills.
Committee members decided to cut the size of the buffer required between wind farms and the nearest dwelling. The proposal called for at least a 1500-foot buffer. But committee Chair Barb Wysocki says a 1200-foot buffer is more common, and preferred by developers. "The developers who were at the meeting admitted that 1500 feet would not necessarily be a deal-breaker," says Wysocki. "But it would encourage them to rethink the configuration of the wind turbines and their placement in Champaign County.
County Planning and Zoning Director John Hall says he's hoping for quick county board approval next month of the wind turbine rules, so that developers already looking to set up wind farms in Champaign County can take quick action.
In the meantime, the wind farm zoning proposal remains with the Environmental and Land Use Committee for public comment. If a local government in the county decides to protest the rules, that would force a super-majority vote on the county board for the proposal to pass --- 21 votes instead of 14.
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